ER/NBC/1994-2009 (Parkinson’s Disease)

Paul Nathan (Don Cheadle), middle-aged African-American med student assigned to surgical rotation at the Emergency Room at Cook County Hospital in Chicago.


Introduced on episode #185 “A Hopeless Wound” (aired 10-31-2002), Paul Nathan’s character was found to suffer from Parkinson Disease, but despite his condition he was determined to become a surgeon. Paul decided to pursue medicine “after” being diagnosed with the disease.

Paul takes medication to keep his condition in check but on occasion he exhibits trembling of the hands and the inability to coordinate his body movements.

At the end of episode # 186 “Only You Can Hope” (aired 11-07-2002) while waiting for the train to arrived at a Chicago train station platform, Nathan discovered that he could not move. When concerned fellow physician Elizabeth Corday asked, “You can’t move?”, Paul nonchalantly acknowledged the fact and told her to get on the train without him saying “I’ll catch the next one.” Reluctantly, Elizabeth boarded the train.

As the train pulled away, Nathan sat alone on the platform with his hand trembling while he waited for his medication {“Meds”) to kick in and for his mobility to return.

On episode No. 187 “Tell Me When It Hurts?” (aired 11-14-2002) a patient on a gurney gets agitated and violent. To subdue the man, Nathan punches him out with his fist and then claims the alleged involuntary movement on that “Damned dyskinesia.”

Nathan was nicknamed the “Patron Saint of the Terminally Ill” by Dr. Elizabeth Corday for his zealous intervention into cases that other doctors thought hopeless. Nathan just wanted the patients to have all the facts so they could make an intelligent decision about their conditions.

Nathan initially asked to be treated like any other student. But when his condition began to endanger the ER patient (he couldn’t control his movements while assisting in a surgical procedure) Corday told hem that any other medical intern who had done what he had done, she would have sanctioned.

She then advised that he specialize in some other field of medicine like Radiology and gave Nathan an ultimatum. “You must give me your word, you must never treat patients. If you do I will pass you.” Nathan refused and Corday told him “Then you will fail.”

A few weeks later Nathan’s hand twitched while checking an ear infection of a little girl, causing her to cry. This action forced Corday to fail Nathan. Her intention was not malicious but rather her way of making him recognize his limitations.

Nathan’s qualities lay in his compassion and caring. As she told him “You have a gift of a physician. It’s up to you to decide if you want to share that gift and find a way.”

See also: ER (2) ; ER (3) ; ER (4) ; ER (5) ; ER (6)

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